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Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - November 15, 2018
Heather Nauert
Department Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 15, 2018

Index for Today's Briefing


    3:16 p.m. EST

    MS NAUERT: Okay. A couple announcements to bring you before I take your questions.

    First, I’d like to address a meeting that I was able to have yesterday with some incredible women who are from the Committee to Protect Journalists. They were the winners of the International Press Freedom Award and they joined me here at the State Department yesterday to share some of their stories. These women were incredible representatives of your profession. They were from Venezuela, Vietnam, and the Philippines. I spoke with them about some of their experiences they have faced and also that their family members have faced as a result of their chosen professions.

    They shared with me their stories of harassment, the threats that they have received, the intimidation, the detention, and their kidnapping, all faced and that they suffered just simply for doing their jobs. For many of these journalists, this kind of treatment is ongoing. One of the awardees was named Maria Ressa. She’s from the Philippines. She was unable to travel to the United States because of legal challenges to her website by the government. We also discussed the threats to journalists and human rights defenders in other countries including Tanzania and also Egypt.

    As I’ve said from this podium many times before, my colleagues and I at the State Department believe very deeply in the right to a free press. That is essential to transparency and also accountability. I appreciate working with you most days. (Laughter.) No, each and every day. It is a real honor, and I think you know I mean that very sincerely. I know some of you had an opportunity to meet these ladies earlier today, so thank you for taking your time to meet with them and hear about their stories, and I know that they were very grateful for that.

    Next thing, our Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International, Environmental and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber and the Libya Ambassador Wafa Bugaighis marked the 10-year renewal for the U.S.-Libya Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement with a signing ceremony that took place here yesterday at the State Department. That renewal provides a framework to strengthen the bilateral cooperation in STEM fields. It ensures open data practices, extends U.S. norms and principles, and also protects Americans’ intellectual property. The State Department will continue to support programs that provide new opportunities to talented youth and STEM leaders in Libya, including through the Fulbright Student Program, the Professional Fellows Program, the TechWomen Scholarship, and the U.S.-Libya Space Camp Scholarship. Since the signing of the original agreement in 2009, the department has supported the participation of more than 75 Libyans on exchange-focused STEM subjects, so we’re pleased to welcome them.

    Last thing is a staffing announcement, and we’ve had – we’ve been hard at work getting our team on the field, as we often say here. I have two additional staffing announcements to bring you today. The first is our new assistant secretary for legislative affairs. Her name is Mary Elizabeth Taylor. She has now started and has been sworn in. Ms. Taylor comes to the State Department from Legislative Affairs at the White House. Previously, she served in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She worked on the Senate floor as a senior cloakroom assistant and also as the – acting as liaison between the minority and the majority leadership in order to negotiate agreements on legislative and executive matters.

    Next I’d like to announce the addition of Mary Kissel. She has joined us from The Wall Street Journal. Many of you may have known Mary during her 15 years at The Wall Street Journal, and we could not be more thrilled to have her on board as well. Mary will be working for the Secretary as a senior advisor to the Secretary for policy and strategic messaging. While at the Journal, she also served as a member of the Journal’s editorial board. So we’re thrilled to have her on board. She’s also an expert on Asia, and we look forward to introducing you to both of them in the near future.

    And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Heather. Before getting into the news of the day, I just want to – I want to ask you a question about your first topper there in terms of the journalists who are here with the Committee to Protect Journalists. You’re right; we did get a chance to talk with some of them, and as did you. And while we all appreciate the message that you send or that you deliver from this podium every day, are you not at all concerned that that message gets diluted a bit when you see what’s going on just up the street at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where there is essentially a full-on war between the President and one particular reporter and the White House that’s trying to put him out?

    MS NAUERT: I understand where you’re going with this. I think we have to keep this --

    QUESTION: I mean, do you – don’t you think that your message or is there a concern that your message of support for journalists both here and abroad – more importantly abroad, perhaps – is somewhat diluted or somewhat hurt by what’s going on and the rhetoric and the language that comes out of the leadership in the White House about this?

    MS NAUERT: Let me – I know where you’re going with this question, so let me just stop you and answer it there. No, and here’s why: In the United States, journalists are able and allowed to freely practice their profession. We see that each and every day. Administration officials and others across the country sometimes take issue with incorrect, inaccurate reporting. We’ve had these debates often here. That is one thing.

    Journalists can do their jobs in the United States. These women – their family members have been detained, some of them. They’ve been forced out of their professions entirely. Some of them have been forced out of their countries. And as you all know far too well, some journalists have been detained, sentenced to many years in prison in other countries. So I think the situations are entirely different, and I would encourage you all to keep it into perspective. How journalists --

    QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. But that’s not – what I was trying to say. I am --

    MS NAUERT: -- are handled and treated here in the United States versus the very real risks that they face overseas.

    QUESTION: I was afraid that you would try and do this by trying to change the – I am not suggesting in any way that the threats and the persecution, prosecution that these people that – who you hosted, you who met with, is similar to what or is in any way like what those of us in this room deal with. I am asking you if you are concerned at all that your message of support for them, for these journalists who you just hosted is diluted or hurt or may not resonate as much as it did because of the situation that we see here in the United States.

    MS NAUERT: I have seen --

    QUESTION: And again, I am not trying to compare their situation to our situation.

    MS NAUERT: I have seen how when we speak about the cases of some of these journalists how much it has helped them, how much it has helped them in their home countries. Sometimes we don’t speak about their cases when we think that speaking about their cases could hurt their cases, but I have seen firsthand how speaking to the realities that they face in their given countries has assisted them, has encouraged governments across the world to treat journalists better, to stop doing things like taxing them out of business, stop detaining them, and things of that nature.

    So what we do here at the State Department in speaking out in support of freedom of speech has helped people, and I continue to believe that that does help people. Okay?

    QUESTION: All right, let me say once again I want to ask you about the sanctions that were imposed.

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can I – just really quick – just really quick on this issue?

    MS NAUERT: Okay.

    QUESTION: I mean, true – true --

    MS NAUERT: Because if you all would like to make this all about you and not talk about other things today, we can do that.

    QUESTION: No, no, you – look, we cannot compare how journalists conduct themselves in this country to other countries, but certainly you must agree that many of your close allies, very close allies, mistreat journalists, put them in prison, persecute them, and so on. And you seem to – maybe issue a statement. I mean, I don’t want to name countries, but you probably know what I’m talking about. You seem to issue a statement, then it stops there. So you hold, like, foreign journalists in a different standard.

    MS NAUERT: I disagree with that because much of what we do – you know this, Said; all of you know this – much of what we do is behind the scenes. And some people may think oh, the State Department isn’t doing enough on this case or that case. I’d encourage you to go back and talk to your editors, because we’ve helped some of your very own colleagues. We won’t speak about it, we’ll be discreet about it, but we continue to do that, and we’re proud of our work. That’s what we do on behalf of American citizens and journalists who in some instances are not American citizens.

    QUESTION: I just want to say one thing.

    MS NAUERT: Go ahead, Gardiner.

    QUESTION: In countries around the world, these dictators are using – use fake news as a rallying cry for repression of journalists, directly echoing the President of the United States.

    MS NAUERT: But you know what?

    QUESTION: That does not cause you any concern?

    MS NAUERT: You know what? Since having taken this job – and you know I’m a former journalist myself – I have been disheartened – and I didn’t believe it until I got into this role and started working with reporters each and every day. You all are a great group. You know that. I respect to the Nth degree what you do for a living, and I think we always have fair and honest exchanges of ideas, our concepts, our values, our policies.

    I have seen since taking on this role inaccurate and sloppy reporting. Sometimes I think it’s intentional because of bias. Other times it may just be someone’s naivete. And so when the President has spoken about fake news, when other world leaders have spoken about fake news, there is such a thing. We have experienced that just this week: one news magazine, for example, referring – taking the Secretary’s quote about Iran and twisting that quote and making it inaccurate. That information was used by the Iranian regime, for example – and I can give you all the details – for its own propaganda purposes.

    So fake news, I hate to say, but is a real thing. It is a real thing, Gardiner. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Others have. You all have had to make corrections at many of your publications, yours included, in the past for inaccurate and sometimes biased reporting.

    QUESTION: I didn’t want to get – this isn’t about us. But you mentioned that – okay, so do you think then that anyone that you accuse of fake news is an enemy of the people? Is that the position of the State Department as well?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t think that news reporters are the enemy of the people. What I do think --

    QUESTION: Okay, all right. Is that, first of all --

    MS NAUERT: Hold on. What I do think is very dangerous is when the news is dishonest when you report – not you, but when journalists report false information. And I’ve seen it come from the highest levels of news organizations, where I’ve had to pick up the phone and call the president of unnamed news organizations, who have been unwilling to change their headlines or to change their stories, despite facts to the contrary. That has to stop.

    And when I spoke to these women yesterday, to hear their stories about what they do each and every day, they are the best of what journalists should all aspire to do, and I hope we can all keep that in perspective – fact-based reporting. And I think that’s why the President and others in the country and other countries around the world become very concerned when reporting is taken out of context, is inaccurate, or is biased.

    QUESTION: But you don’t agree with the idea that someone who does that, whether intentional or not, is an enemy of the people, do you?

    MS NAUERT: Matt, I’m not going to get into this.

    QUESTION: All right. Good.

    MS NAUERT: I think we’ve addressed it enough.

    QUESTION: Good. I agree.

    MS NAUERT: If you’d like to make this entire briefing about the profession of the news business, we could do it or we could take it over to the Newseum and have a conversation.

    QUESTION: No, I wanted to change the subject before. Can I ask you about the sanctions on – that were imposed on the 17 Saudi officials today?

    MS NAUERT: Yes, you may.

    QUESTION: So the reaction to this from various members of the Hill – sorry, members of Congress – has been well, okay, this is a good first step, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. And I realize that the Secretary in his statement said we’re going to continue to uncover the facts and as we do we’ll act appropriately. But can you say – are you able to say now that this is not the end, that there will be something more substantive – I don't want to say – these are substantive, but something more that will come as the case against these people and perhaps others in the future continue?

    MS NAUERT: We rarely preview sanctions or other activities. You all are well aware of that. The Secretary has addressed this in a general sense and has said that this is not the last that you have heard from the U.S. Government on this very issue, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

    Today, in conjunction with the Department of the Treasury, we put out a statement, as did Treasury, imposing sanctions on 17 Saudi Arabian individuals for serious human rights abuses resulting from their roles in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey on October the 2nd. That action was taken under the authority of Executive Order 13818, which implements and builds upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. As a result of that action, all of the individuals’ assets within U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with these individuals.

    At the time of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, these individuals occupied positions in the royal court and at several ministries and offices of the Government of Saudi Arabia. The United States Government goes on to list the names of those sanctioned individuals. If someone has not received this notice, you can certainly contact our Press Office for this or the Treasury Press Office.

    Global Magnitsky Act empowers the United States to take significant steps to protect and promote human rights and combat corruption around the world. Our action today is an important step in responding to Jamal Khashoggi’s killing. The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts. We will continue to consult Congress and work with other nations to hold accountable those who were involved in his killing.

    QUESTION: Very brief, last one from me.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But can you say that you’re satisfied that the – in terms of the seniority of officials that it stops where it stops and – or is it still an open question? It could still – those to be punished or to be sanctioned could be higher level than what has already happened? Is that --

    MS NAUERT: So let me respond to your question this way, because the Saudi Government made an announcement today. We regard the announcement that they made as a good first step. It’s a step in the right direction. It is an initial investigation finding. It is important that those steps continue to be taken toward full accountability. We will continue to work diligently to ascertain the facts. The Secretary has talked about the importance of gathering data from various sources. That’s something that the U.S. Government continues to do. That data will then help inform the decisions that we end up making and taking in the future, and that’s in part how we arrived in conjunction with Treasury at the Global Magnitsky sanctions of those Saudi individuals.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Heather, (inaudible) a follow-up --

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Michel, go right ahead. Hi.

    QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the findings of the Saudi prosecutor --

    MS NAUERT: Well, that’s why I say that this is an important first step and that this is also an initial finding of its investigation. We expect that the investigation will continue, not only in Saudi Arabia but in Turkey as well, as we continue to develop facts, a fact set, and make determinations from here on out.

    Okay. Sorry. Janne, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. On North Korea --

    QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Can we stick with this just for a second?

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead, Gardiner.

    QUESTION: Sorry. So this explanation today seems to contradict earlier explanations by the Saudis. Today, they seem to be saying that this was a rendition gone bad. Before, they agreed that it actually was a premeditated murder. The administration even seemed to agree with that earlier premeditated murder explanation. Where are you on the – is this a rendition gone bad? Was this a premeditated murder? And can you tell us whether --

    MS NAUERT: I think it’s still too early for us to be able to answer that question. We continue to get the information and we’ll analyze and make determinations as we get additional information.

    QUESTION: And the announcement today about the sanctions – was that at all coordinated with the Saudis? These two announcements came today within an hour of each other, one from Saudi Arabia about its conclusions, the other from the United States about its sanctions.

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Did – was the timing a coincidence?

    MS NAUERT: It was not. It was not. It has been no secret – even though we don’t forecast sanctions, it has been so secret because many of you had emailed me all hours of the day asking me when these sanctions would be announced. So the U.S. Government and some officials have spoken to this, so it was no surprise that something of this sort was coming out and would be announced today.

    QUESTION: You’ve explained repeatedly in the past that sanctions take weeks, months, and even years. In fact, we just had --

    MS NAUERT: It depends on the level of complexity, and I’m not a sanctions expert, so I’m not going to try to be one. But in having talked to a lot of my colleagues who are more technical experts on this matter – for example, when we talk about CAATSA. CAATSA, very different kind of instrument of sanctions.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: That type of sanction can take a very long time to dig down into all the details, because they can involve very complex, large conglomerates, businesses overseas. Today Treasury and the State Department announced individuals. Individuals – unless there may be an oligarch – can be a little bit easier to drill down onto the facts of their portfolios, their holdings, and all of that. So that is why that may not take as long as when we deal with something like CAATSA.

    QUESTION: And one other thing: In a related matter, NBC News reported today that the administration was actually thinking about some sort of getting Fethullah Gulen to the Turks in some way, even though this administration has yet to even start any kind of judicial extradition process. Can you help us understand that?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. So let’s back up a little bit.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MS NAUERT: Because over the past year and a half, since I’ve been in this role, we’ve talked a fair bit about the Turks’ interest in Fethullah Gulen, who’s in the United States. We have received multiple requests from the Turkish Government, at least over the time that I’ve been here, related to Mr. Gulen. We continue to evaluate the materials that the Turkish Government presents requesting his extradition.

    This is wholly handled out of the Department of Justice, so I’d have to refer you to the Department of Justice for information on that, but I can tell you these issues are unrelated. I’ve seen some news reports where people are trying to conflate the two, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with Khashoggi and Gulen, and there is no relation. So let’s pull those two issues apart and keep them discrete just as they are. Let me also add, because I’ve spoken to some of my White House colleagues about this, the White House has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen.

    Okay. Okay.

    QUESTION: Heather --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MS NAUERT: Michel, I’ll come back to you.

    QUESTION: Sorry. Discussions with the Turks or interagency discussions?

    MS NAUERT: With the Turks. Yeah – with the Turks.

    Okay. Yeah, go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much. On the Palestinian issue, today marks --

    QUESTION: Heather, can you say --

    MS NAUERT: Michel, I’ll come back to you. Let me just try to get around the room a little bit.

    QUESTION: Thirty years ago, the Palestinians recognized Israel and its right to exist and as a state, but they have been waiting for Israel to recognize a Palestinian entity of some sort for the past 30 years. And meanwhile the occupation goes on, the settlements go on, the arrests go on, and so on. Don’t you think that the time has come for Palestinian self-determination and statehood?

    MS NAUERT: I think the time has come for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We have a team that’s very hard at work trying to get the two sides together. When we talk about a two-state solution, Said, we need both parties to sit down and have direct negotiations to do that. You can’t do this through an intermediary. You can’t do this through headlines and fights in the press related to that. You have to sit down and you have to be willing to compromise.

    The President has repeatedly said and we’ve repeatedly said the two sides are probably going to have to give a bit to develop a lasting peace. We hope we are – we hope that we can get to this point. We’ve got a deal that is still in the works, and when we’re ready to announce that deal and unveil that deal, I’ll be thrilled to bring it to you, okay.

    QUESTION: On this very point.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah.

    QUESTION: On this very point, today Mr. Jason Greenblatt actually published an op-ed or an opinion piece in my own newspaper. And he talks at length about the need to normalize with the Arab countries and so on, but he hardly talks about whatever points the plan might have and so on. He is not reaching out to the Palestinians. I suggest that you read the whole article. It’s a lengthy and very thorough --

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’ve taken a look at Jason Greenblatt’s editorial. I think it was posted in your paper, right?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, I’m glad that you ran that. Look, our relationship with Israel is not simply about a peace plan. Israel’s relationship with many other countries around the world is extremely broad. They do a lot of great work in the areas of finance, manufacturing, desalination of water – there are a lot of things. It is a broad relationship that they have with a lot of countries. Commerce is in part what Jason Greenblatt addressed in his editorial, and there’s nothing wrong with discussing those issues, and not simply every time he writes to talk about Israeli-Palestinian peace, as important as that issue is. So he has other work to do, and that’s part of it as well.

    QUESTION: He’s charged with that.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: He’s charged with that. And I’m just asking whether you have shifted the fulcrum or the center of your emphasis or your focus.

    MS NAUERT: No. I mean, he knows these issues, he knows the country very well, and I’m glad just seeing him put pen to paper and share his expertise with others.

    QUESTION: I have another question.

    MS NAUERT: And by the way, Said, I know he’ll be thrilled that you read it. So I’ll be sure to let him know.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Last thing. Last week, the Israelis arrested 45 Americans that were planting flowers and so on, and they released them. I wanted to ask you whether you had anything to do with their release so quickly. They were released right after two hours and so on. Or are you aware of the situation?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, that’s one of the situations where there are privacy considerations, so I just can’t comment on that due to that, okay.

    Hi, Laurie.

    QUESTION: Hi. Earlier this month you tweeted that one of the 12 conditions for lifting sanctions on Iran is that the regime, quote, “must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias,” end quote. Is that still your position?

    MS NAUERT: Nothing has changed with regard to our position on that.

    QUESTION: Even though Iraqi politicians have said you’re interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs?

    MS NAUERT: I don’t think we’re interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. That’s something – we take great pains to not do that. We respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government. Sovereignty is an important element of what this U.S. administration stands for. You can read that in our National Security Strategy. We have a great relationship with the Iraqi people, but we believe that Iraq is a sovereign nation.

    Okay, yeah.

    QUESTION: And on Syria’s Kurds, last month, Secretary Pompeo said they were, quote, “great partners,” and will ensure them, quote, “a seat at the table.” Is that still your position?

    MS NAUERT: Our position has not changed. Kurds are great partners, and you remember the President up at UNGA – I think you were in the audience there – where he called upon one of – he’s not here today, is he? “Mr. Kurd.”

    QUESTION: “Mr. Kurd,” that’s right.

    MS NAUERT: The bureau chief. And we were thrilled that he then reported – put an article in The Wall Street Journal. So our position has not changed.

    QUESTION: Mr. Kurd appreciates that a lot and he thanks the President.

    MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) Invite Mr. Kurd back, please. We enjoy him. Hey, Laurie – I mean, I’m sorry, Janne.

    QUESTION: Thank you very much, Heather. Two questions, quick, on North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently announced that North Korea will rebuild both the nuclear and economy. In this regard, we don’t know whether North Korea denuclearized. What do you think about North Koreans’ brinkmanship diplomacy? Second question is --

    MS NAUERT: I think a lot of these things are negotiating points, and a lot of these are positions that various governments, just as a general matter, will use leading up to negotiations. This is an issue – the denuclearization of North Korea – that President Trump has been intimately involved in. The Secretary, of course, is his personal representative on that – Steve Biegun as well. And they’ve been hard at work working toward the denuclearization of North Korea.

    We’ve said this before: We have a long way to go. We believe in giving diplomacy a chance. There are plenty of news organizations who like to make fun of us, that we haven’t gone far enough, we haven’t done enough. We are hard at work at this. President Trump and Chairman Kim came up with four sets and – areas of agreement that they intend to work on. We’ve been hard at work on those four areas of agreement. We take Chairman Kim at his word that he will work on this with us. And when the President and Chairman Kim are next able to meet, whenever that does take place – we think probably early in the next year – we expect that those four elements of the Singapore summit will be addressed by the two leaders.

    QUESTION: But the North Korea has done so in the past, there – it will be breaking of the --

    MS NAUERT: There are significant differences between how this administration is handling things and previous administrations have handled things. We won’t make the same mistakes of the past. Some of those mistakes of the past included piling on a bunch of different countries that could all weigh in, and you get mired into a lot of bureaucratic battles and can’t always get things effectively or efficiently done. We’ve now stripped that away. We are negotiating leader to leader. You have the President and the Secretary both negotiating with Chairman Kim personally, and that adds an entirely different element to it.

    North Korea is seeing a brighter future, I think, ahead. That is something that the Secretary and others in the U.S. delegation have discussed with North Korean officials. We’d like a brighter future for North Korea and think that they would as well. So --

    QUESTION: So I’m sorry, when you said that you’d – that past attempts had gotten bogged down in the multilateral process, you’re referring to the Six-Party Talks?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, a lot of times, having a lot of parties weigh in on something has bogged down the negotiations, as you can imagine, Matt. You could put six – six people in a room, right?

    QUESTION: Children?

    MS NAUERT: No, I didn’t say that. You put six people in a room and they’re going to have disagreements, and things are --

    QUESTION: And have seven different opinions --

    MS NAUERT: And things are going to take a lot longer to get done. But this is a leader-to-leader negotiation. But the United States, along with many other countries, is backed by the world.

    QUESTION: Fair enough. Is that --

    MS NAUERT: If you’ll look at the UN Security Council resolutions and the unanimous rounds of those resolutions, that tells you a lot about the importance of denuclearizing the Korean – North Korea and the efforts behind it.

    QUESTION: Of course, that’s also a lot of people in the room.

    MS NAUERT: They’re backing those Security Council resolutions, yeah.

    QUESTION: So does that apply to other negotiations as well?

    MS NAUERT: I’m not going to apply the same thing, that, to every other situation because situations are unique. You know that. Okay.

    QUESTION: My second question is did Secretary Pompeo meet with the South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon today?

    MS NAUERT: Did Secretary Pompeo meet with the South Koreans today?

    QUESTION: South Korean Unification Minister Cho.

    MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge. Secretary Pompeo is on a trip to Texas today. I’m not sure where he is in his schedule right now, but not to my knowledge has he met. Nope, I’m getting heads shaking over here, so he’s not met with South Koreans today.

    QUESTION: South Korean media reported that are you planning for the meeting, any meeting with the Secretary Pompeo and South Korea?

    MS NAUERT: We – look, we don’t have any meetings on the schedule just yet. Secretary Pompeo is willing and able to meet with his South Korean counterparts. Sometimes he’s met with Kim Jong-un, Chairman Kim; not always has he met with them.

    QUESTION: South Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you meant North Korea. I’m not aware of any meetings that we have scheduled.

    QUESTION: Is South Korea fake news?

    MS NAUERT: Maybe it is. Okay. Hey, Abbie.

    QUESTION: Hi. Do you have any information on the death of an American recently, Patrick Braxton Andrew, in Mexico?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can only tell you that we can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen in Mexico. Taylor Meyer was his name. He died in Playa del Carmen, Mexico on November the 9th of this year. We would like to offer our deepest condolences to his family and his friends. Our U.S. consulate is providing consular assistance to the family, so we’ve been in touch with the family to try to support them in any way that we are able to. You know we’re limited in terms of what we can say for various privacy reasons and out of respect for the family as well. I can tell you we are coordinating with Mexican authorities. They have the lead on investigation as to what caused his death. And I’ll just leave our comments at that.

    QUESTION: Unfortunately, this is actually a case of another American. The family just confirmed that the Mexican authorities – Mexican authorities have confirmed his death. He was hiking, from North Carolina. Do you know anything about that American?

    MS NAUERT: Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t have any information for you on that. I thought you were referring to another case. Let me look into that and get you some information. My apologies.

    Okay. Hey, Ben.

    QUESTION: Hi. If I could go back to North Korea.

    MS NAUERT: Sure.

    QUESTION: Vice President Pence gave an interview while in Singapore where he stated that it was absolutely imperative at this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all weapons in question, identifying all sites, and allowing inspections and plans for dismantlement. Does the State Department share those goals for the next summit? And with where you guys are in your negotiations with North Korea, are you confident that you can accomplish this at the next summit?

    MS NAUERT: You’re asking me for a measurement. You’re asking me to make a prediction. I’m not going to get ahead of any negotiations that may happen at a much higher level than me between the President, Chairman Kim, or Secretary Pompeo and his counterpart, or our special representative, Steve Biegun and his counterparts. We went into this eyes wide open. We have made, we think, tremendous progress. We will continue to work on that progress and continue to work toward the fully verified – final, fully verified denuclearization.

    Okay. Hey, go ahead. Hi there.

    QUESTION: Hi. It’s reported that President Erdogan said the U.S. has adopted the stance that Turkey must not interfere in Block 10 of Cyprus, exclusive economic zone, where ExxonMobil is drilling, but it is allowed to do whatever it wants beyond that point. So my question is: Is this your position, or do you expect Turkey to respect every single block of the Cyprus exclusive economic zone?

    MS NAUERT: Yeah. Regarding the Cyprus exclusive economic zone, it’s something I haven’t looked at that information for quite some time. I’ll have to check with my colleagues who cover Cyprus each and every day very, very carefully, and I’ll get back with you with a response. I’m afraid I don’t have anything more for you on that today. Okay.

    QUESTION: On Turkey.

    MS NAUERT: Go right ahead.

    QUESTION: Yes. The president of Turkey is threatening again Greece and Cyprus, and lately included an American company, ExxonMobil. Do you have any comment on this?

    MS NAUERT: Again, I --

    QUESTION: And can you tell us --

    MS NAUERT: Just as your neighbor right there asked me about an issue of Cyprus, it’s not something I’m – unfortunately that I’ve asked my Cyprus experts about today or yesterday, so I will check in with them and get you the latest. I don’t want to give you any incorrect information.

    QUESTION: Can I ask one thing about --

    MS NAUERT: Yes.

    QUESTION: You may also have to take this, because I didn’t know about it until – well, it didn’t come to me as a question until recently, and that is just about --

    MS NAUERT: Meaning while you were sitting here, so I have no idea what you’re going to ask me about. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: No, no, it’s not breaking news, necessarily. There is legislation that’s pending up on the Hill that’s been introduced by Senator Menendez, and it’s got some Republican cosponsors as well, that would impose sanctions on Nicaragua for the current situation down there. I’m just wondering if you could take – if you don’t have an answer at hand on the current situation in Nicaragua, what the U.S. view is of it, if you could find out what the administration’s position is on this legislation? Are you prepared to – they’re a part of the --

    MS NAUERT: I think it’s going to be the same as it always is, that we don’t comment on pending legislation.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MS NAUERT: But if there is something new in the way of our stance regarding Nicaragua and looking at --

    QUESTION: Well, it’s just that it comes in the light of Ambassador Bolton and the “Troika of Tyranny” comments in his speech about Latin America policy. And so I’m curious to know where you guys stand on going after not just the government in Venezuela, but also the government in Nicaragua. Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’ll take a look and see if we have anything new for you on that.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    MS NAUERT: We’ve got to go. I’ll just take your last question, Michel.

    QUESTION: Yeah. On the sanctions announced by Treasury today, Senator Tim Kaine has said that, “I am disturbed that following repeated Saudi lies about what happened to Jamal, the administration appears to be following the Saudi playbook of blaming mid-level officials and exonerating its leadership.” Do you have any reaction to that?

    MS NAUERT: No. Typically we wouldn’t comment on things that congressional leaders have remarked, nor do we comment typically on what foreign leaders would say about a situation. So I’m just not going to comment on that.

    Do you have something else you want to ask? Then we’ve got to wrap it up.

    QUESTION: No, that’s it.

    MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. Thanks, everybody. Got to go.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MS NAUERT: Thanks.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:54 p.m.)

    Thu, 15 Nov 2018 18:40:28 EDT

    Department Press Briefings : Department Press Briefing - November 13, 2018
    Heather Nauert
    Department Press Briefing
    Washington, DC
    November 13, 2018

    Index for Today's Briefing
    • NATO


      2:44 p.m. EST

      MS NAUERT: Good afternoon, everybody. Hope you’re all doing well. Great to see you again.

      Today we’re going to begin with a special briefing by some of my colleagues. We will be joined by our Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security, Mike Evanoff, and also our Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales. They will talk about new measures that the U.S. Government is taking against Lebanese Hizballah and also Hamas.

      First up, I’ll invite Assistant Secretary Evanoff, and then we’ll – and then Nathan Sales, and then we’ll take a few questions. I’ll moderate, and then we’ll go on to the regular briefing.

      QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

      MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) I’ll come back, Nazira. Okay. Go right ahead, Mike.

      ASSISTANT SECRETARY EVANOFF: Thanks. Good afternoon, everyone. So today the U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program is offering rewards of up to 5 million each for information leading to the identification or location of Hamas leader Salih al-Aruri, and Lebanese Hizballah leaders Khalil Yusif Mahmoud Harb, and Haytham Ali Tabatabai.

      Salih al-Aruri is a deputy of the Hamas’s political bureau and one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing. Al-Aruri is currently living freely in Lebanon, where he is reportedly is working with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force. Al-Aruri raised funds for and directed Hamas military operations in West Bank and has been linked to several terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings.

      In 2014, al-Aruri asserted Hamas’s responsibility for the June 12th, 2014 terrorist kidnapping and murder of three teenagers in the West Bank, including dual U.S.-Israeli citizen Naftali Frenkel. The U.S. Department of Treasury designated al-Aruri a specially designated global terrorist in September 2015.

      Khalil Yusif Mahmoud Harb is a close advisor of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanese Hizballah, and has served as the group’s chief military liaison and Palestinian terrorist organizations. Harb has commanded and supervised Lebanese Hizballah military operations in the Palestinian territories and several countries throughout Middle East. The U.S. Department of Treasury designated Harb as a specially designated global terrorist in August of 2013.

      Haytham Ali Tabatabai is a key Lebanese Hizballah military leader who commanded Hizballah special forces in both Syria and Yemen. The Department of State designated Tabatabai as a specially designated global terrorist in October of 2016. The Hamas and Hizballah organizations receive weapons, training, and funding from Iran, which the Secretary of State has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. The Department of State designated both Hamas and Hizballah as foreign terrorist organizations in October 1997, and as specially designated global terrorist entities in October 2001.

      We urge anyone with information on the whereabouts of these individuals to contact the Rewards for Justice Program via the RFJ website at, or via email at The individuals outside the United States may be – also contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. All information submitted to us will be kept strictly confidential – I repeat, confidential.

      The Rewards for Justice Program has been an effective tool in our fight against international terrorism. Since its inception in 1984, the program has paid in excess of $150 million to more than a hundred individuals who provided credible information that prevented international terrorist attacks or helped to bring terrorists to justice.

      Through the efforts of courageous people who have stepped forward with information about wanted terrorist suspects, the Rewards for Justice Program has helped law enforcement authorities throughout the world to stop terrorists and save innocent lives.

      I’m hopeful that the rewards offers we are announcing today will play a similar role in bringing Salih al-Aruri, Mahmoud Harb, and Haytham Tabataba’i to justice. Thank you.

      And now I would like to turn over the microphone to Ambassador Nathan Sales, who will then give you a – our government’s view on Iran going forward. Thank you.

      AMBASSADOR SALES: Thanks, Mike. I’d like to say a few words to put into a broader strategic context the RFJ reward offers that Assistant Secretary Evanoff has just announced. Before I do so however, I’d like to pause for a moment to acknowledge that today is a very sad anniversary. This is the three-year anniversary of the ISIS attacks on Paris in November of 2015.

      Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. It has held that dubious distinction for many years now, and it shows no signs of relinquishing the title. Let me give you some numbers. Iran spends $700 million a year on Lebanese Hizballah. It gives another $100 million to various Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas. Combined with the money that Tehran provides to other terrorists, the total bill comes close to $1 billion a year.

      Sadly, it is the Iranian people who are forced to pay this price. The resources that Iran uses to fund its global terrorist ambitions are resources that come directly out of the pockets of everyday, average Iranians. The regime robs its own citizens to pay its proxies abroad.

      Inside Lebanon, Hizballah’s destructive actions have endangered the Lebanese people. Thanks to Iran’s backing, Hizballah has built a fearsome arsenal. The group has stockpiled more than 100,000 rockets and missiles inside Lebanon, and we see this as a massive and destabilizing buildup. As we all know, Hizballah hides its missile factories in population centers, effectively using innocent civilians as human shields.

      Hizballah’s ability to destabilize is not confined to the Middle East, however. It is able to destabilize inside Lebanon itself. As Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri told media outlets earlier today, Hizballah continues to block Lebanon from forming a new government. This is all at the expense of the Lebanese people in an effort to extract more concessions for Hizballah’s own benefit.

      We are also deeply concerned about Tehran’s growing ties to Hamas. After a brief split early in the Syria conflict, Hamas and Iran have rebuilt their relationship. Iran is once again providing Hamas with much-needed funding. Salih al-Aruri has been a major player in the Hamas-Iran relationship, serving as one of Hamas’s key liaisons with Iran and playing an important role in the reconciliation between the two sides. As has been widely reported, Aruri is currently living freely inside Lebanon, where Hizballah’s leadership has welcomed him with open arms. This is simply unacceptable. It is intolerable for a leader of Hamas to enjoy safe haven in Lebanon.

      In addition to the reward offers just unveiled by Assistant Secretary Evanoff, I announced several new actions to combat Iranian terrorism earlier today in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Today, the State Department is designating Jawad Nasrallah and the al-Mujahidin Brigades as specially designated global terrorists, or SDGTs. Jawad Nasrallah is the son of the group’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. AMB is an Iran-backed terrorist group that has been operating in the Palestinian territories since 2005.

      In addition, we’re maintaining Hizballah’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization, which was up for a mandatory five-year review. Likewise, the Treasury Department is designating a number of Hizballah-related individuals as SDGTs: Shibl al-Zaydi, Yusuf Hashim, Muhammad Farhat, and Adnan Kawtharani. All told, the Trump administration has already designated more than 40 Hizballah-related individuals and entities this year alone, with a total of 160 to date.

      The actions we’re announcing today are one more step in our campaign to build the toughest sanctions regime ever imposed on Iran. More sanctions are coming, and they will continue until Iran and its proxies change their behavior. Iran must follow the same rules that every other civilized nation follows and renounce terrorism as a basic tool of statecraft. We will continue to ratchet up the pressure until Iran joins the community of civilized nations and ceases its support for murder and mayhem around the globe.

      Thank you very much.

      MS NAUERT: Have time for a few questions. Nick, we’ll start with you. Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.

      QUESTION: Can you tell us – you said I think it’s Aruri is living freely in Lebanon. So what pressure are you putting on the Government of Lebanon to detain him, if any, and will they face any punishment or sanction for allowing them to go free? And then can you also just explain, given that these men have been on various terrorist lists since 2013, why now with the rewards?

      AMBASSADOR SALES: Let me take the first piece and then turn it over to the assistant secretary. What we expect of Lebanon is what we expect of any government when dealing with a designated SDGT. So a person who is designated as an SDGT is subject to having all of their assets that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction frozen, and individuals are prohibited from engaging in any kind of transaction with them. Doing so subjects those individuals to secondary sanctions.

      It’s intolerable, as I said, for a senior Hamas figure to enjoy freedom of movement in any country. And what we expect of Lebanon is what we’d expect any responsible country to do, and that is crack down on any terrorists in their borders.

      ASSISTANT SECRETARY EVANOFF: The Rewards for Justice Program is an interagency program with the Secretary of State having the final say in it. This has taken time to get processed, and once the time has come, we have now unveiling it. So it’s nothing – there is nothing that shows that we have an issue with it right now. It’s just coming up through the process.

      MS NAUERT: Next question, Laurie from K24.

      QUESTION: The Treasury Department – the Hizballah people that Treasury Department designated today include people from Iraq, Kata’ib Hizballah. Could you explain the relationship between Kata’ib Hizballah and Lebanese Hizballah? Is it the same organization? And secondly, the lead figure there in Kata’ib Hizballah is actually the head of the Popular Mobilization Forces. Are you doing anything against him, al-Muhandis?

      ASSISTANT SECRETARY EVANOFF: Let me speak about the relationship between groups. We see a number of similarities in objectives and tradecraft between these various Iran-backed terrorist groups. They seek to destabilize the regions where they’re active. They have access to weapons and training provided by Iran. They receive funding from Iran. And that’s the reason why we are grouping them together in today’s announcements. Today’s announcements are about increasing our pressure campaign on Iran proper but also on the various different proxies that Iran uses throughout the region and around the world.

      MS NAUERT: Nina from i24, did you have a question?

      QUESTION: No, (inaudible).

      MS NAUERT: Okay, got it. Said, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Thank you. Is it just Salih al-Aruri or other Hamas leaders? Because the other Hamas leaders are constantly going and coming back to Cairo, one of your allies, where you can freely take them if you wanted.

      AMBASSADOR SALES: Well, we have –

      QUESTION: They are different because they are involved in negotiations.

      AMBASSADOR SALES: We have used a number of tools to amplify the pressure on Hizballah, so today’s announcement, as assistant secretary – Hamas, thank you for correcting me. Today’s announcement is limited to Mr. al-Arouri, but in the past we have taken a number of other steps against Hamas as an organization and Hamas-related individuals. Hamas was one of the first groups we ever designated as at FTO back in the late ‘90s after Congress enacted the statute providing for that authority. In addition, in January of this year, we designated Haniyeh, Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas’ political bureau, as an SDGT. So today is just the tip of the iceberg.

      MS NAUERT: Conor Finnegan from ABC.

      QUESTION: Good afternoon, thank you for doing this. Two quick questions for you. The first one: There had been some reporting that the administration is considering designating the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Can you speak to whether or not that is actively under consideration? And then secondly, the administration’s been in office for nearly two years now with this unprecedented sanctions regime on Iran and their proxies. Have you seen any change in their behavior to date because of these sanctions?

      AMBASSADOR SALES: On the Houthis, I’m not going to comment on speculation in the press. What I can tell you is that we’ve been very clear. It’s intolerable that the Houthis are launching Iran-origin munitions into Saudi Arabia. We expect that any country will abide by the standard rules that apply to the international system, one of the most basic of which is do not lob missiles at your neighbors.

      And your second question about the effects of our sanctions. The President has been clear. We want to squeeze the Iranian regime as tightly as possible. And the reason to do that is to deprive them of the resources they need to commit terrorism and acts of violence around the world. Sadly, this is a core component of Iranian policy, so we’re going to have to keep squeezing them. Seven hundred million dollars a year for Hizballah can buy a lot of bullets and a lot of bombs, so we’re going to continue to ramp up the pressure.

      MS NAUERT: Thank you, everyone. Oh, I’m sorry. Michel from Al-Hurra, final question.

      QUESTION: Thank you so much. To what extent the Lebanese Government is coordinating with the U.S. to arrest these people?

      AMBASSADOR SALES: Well, I can’t comment on any diplomatic conversations that may or may not be taking place. But what I can tell you is that whether it’s Lebanon or any other government around the world, if terrorists are present on your territory, we all have an obligation to prevent them from spreading bloodshed around the world.

      QUESTION: Did you mean that there is a coordination or no coordination?

      ASSISTANT SECRETARY EVANOFF: We believe the terrorists – these three will move around in the area, so it doesn’t have to be in Lebanon. It could be any country in the area. It’s – RFJ is a tip line. It’s an informational thing. So if they do move and the government that they are in spot them, they tell us, then it’s up to the interagency to decide how they pick them up, and the country.

      MS NAUERT: Thank you, everyone.

      AMBASSADOR SALES: Thanks, everyone.

      MS NAUERT: Well, thank you. I’m a bit shorter than these guys, so I’ll take advantage of this box here.

      QUESTION: Well, use the little fancy riser.

      MS NAUERT: I’m not sure I know how to use that fancy button, but good afternoon, everyone. A couple quick announcements to bring you before I take your questions.

      The first is Secretary Pompeo met earlier today with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan here in Washington, D.C. During the meeting, Secretary Pompeo conveyed his condolences to the victims of recent flooding in Jordan and reaffirmed the United States steadfast support for Jordan. Secretary Pompeo underscored the importance of the bilateral relationship between our two countries and thanked the king for his efforts to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, and sought King Abudllah’s views on regional developments and other matters of mutual interest. Secretary Pompeo also congratulated King Abdullah on his receipt of the 2018 Templeton Prize.

      Next and final thing is Secretary – Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan is traveling right now to Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Papua New Guinea through November 18th on behalf of Secretary Pompeo. The deputy secretary will accompany Vice President Pence as he represents President Trump at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit in Singapore, as well as the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Port Moresby. The U.S. participation in these events demonstrate our continued commitment to advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific. President Trump outlined our vision for the Indo-Pacific, a constellation of nations that are sovereign, strong, and satellites to none in his speech last November at the APEC CEO Summit in Vietnam.

      One year later, we’ve effectively advanced our vision by building on our principles that are widely shared throughout the region: ensure the freedom of the seas and the skies; raising our concerns about sovereignty with other nations who may be open or – to external coercion; and promoting market-based economics, open investment environments and fair and reciprocal trade; and supporting good governance, transparency, and respect for individual rights. In bilateral meetings and in multinational events throughout this trip, the deputy secretary, the Vice President, and other U.S. officials will continue to work with our allies and partners to ensure an open, rules-based system, which has benefitted the entire region and will remain essential for future prosperity of all countries in the region.

      And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. Hi.

      QUESTION: Thank you, Heather.

      MS NAUERT: Hi, Matt.

      QUESTION: Hello, welcome back to the podium.

      MS NAUERT: Thank you. And I --

      QUESTION: A speculatively long absence.

      MS NAUERT: I should thank – after having done this job for a year and a half solo briefing all of you, which has been quite a job, it’s been wonderful to have a deputy in place, as you can imagine. And Robert gave his first on-camera briefing last week, so he’s done terrific work in getting prepped up for those briefings. And Robert, it’s been a pleasure sitting in the back of the room and watching you take on this effort as we continue to staff up here at the State Department. So thank you.

      QUESTION: All right. That wasn’t a farewell address, was it?

      MS NAUERT: Absolutely not. Thanking Robert for all his hard work.

      QUESTION: All right. I wanted to start with something that’s – what I assume is – will be related to the Secretary’s meeting with King Abdullah, and that is the issues of – regional issues of mutual concern that you mentioned. Is one of those issues the flareup of – or intense flareup of violence in Gaza over the course of the last 48 hours?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. In my experience, when the Secretary has sat down with the king, that has been a big topic of conversation, Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and the situation going on there. I wasn’t at the meeting that took place just a short while ago today, but I would imagine that was a part of the conversation too, but I have not confirmed that yet with the Secretary.

      QUESTION: Okay. Well, as you are – you’re probably aware, it looks like there is a chance that a ceasefire could be arranged, or maybe even has been arranged and is in its early stages. I’m just wondering, in the reporting on this, Egypt has been involved, some European countries have been involved in this, but there’s been no mention of the United States, of this administration at all. Are you at all engaged in trying to bring an end to this current round of fighting or are you guys just sitting this one out?

      MS NAUERT: No, we are hardly sitting this one out. The United States Government at many levels remains engaged in talking to our partners, our allies, and others in the region about our concerns. We certainly want regional peace and stability. What we’re seeing right now take place is not regional peace and stability. We condemn in the strongest terms those rocket missile and mortar attacks that are taking place from Gaza into Israel. We call for the sustained halt of those attacks. We stand with Israel as Israel defends itself against these attacks. It is simply unacceptable to target civilians.

      As you know, we have an ambassador over there, Ambassador David Friedman. He has been hard at work in voicing his concerns about the situation over there. Our presidential advisor Jason Greenblatt as well has been involved in this, and the United States Government continues to have conversations with the various governments of the region at different levels.

      QUESTION: But can you be a little bit more specific? I mean, who – has anyone from this building actually picked up a phone or gone to see anyone to help try and organize a ceasefire?

      MS NAUERT: We have been engaged at the highest levels in this, but we’re not going to get into our diplomatic conversations.

      QUESTION: And the reason I ask is it just seems that previous administrations would – were in similar situations extremely active at very high and very public levels with secretaries of state flying out to the region, trying to – and really exerting some pressure, and this administration seems to be content to do – whatever it is it’s doing, to do it completely behind the scenes. Is that an accurate characterization?

      MS NAUERT: I would not confuse hopping on a plane and flying all over the world with positive activity necessarily. Just because you’re hopping on a plane does not always bring about positive results. We can have conversations, whether it’s by phone or in person with our representatives on the ground that we think can effectively advocate our views and concerns.

      QUESTION: Right. Well, forget about getting on a plane. At least tell us who they’re – who it is that’s – from the U.S. who’s talking to --

      MS NAUERT: At this time, I’m not prepared to get into our private diplomatic conversations. If at some point that changes, I’d be happy to let you know.

      Said, go right ahead, certainly.

      QUESTION: I want to follow up on this. There was quiet and there was agreement – in fact, the Israelis allowed money to go into Gaza and so on, but then they sent in special forces into Gaza and killed seven Palestinians. I mean, that’s how this whole round, this latest round --

      MS NAUERT: Understood. I can’t --

      QUESTION: Do you condemn the Israeli action?

      MS NAUERT: I can’t comment on Israel’s decision to make its – go with its operation that took place over the weekend. That would not be the United States Government --

      QUESTION: But you just condemned the Palestinians for responding to Israel. So --

      MS NAUERT: Rocket attacks, certainly without a doubt. But I cannot comment on --

      QUESTION: So if they go --

      MS NAUERT: -- the specific details of the Israeli operation. I’d have to refer you to the Government of Israel and its military for that.

      QUESTION: So if, let’s say, the Palestinians or Hamas were to send in a group of armed men into Israeli territory and do the same thing, you will not comment on that?

      MS NAUERT: I think that’s entirely a hypothetical. Okay?

      All right. Next question. Hi.

      QUESTION: Yes, hi. The President this morning criticized again the statement from President Macron on European army. Does that mean that the U.S. are not reassured about what President Macron told them during this weekend, that this is part of an effort to step up European defense, precisely to do what President Trump is asking, to share the burden with NATO?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. Well, as you know, I was not there on that trip. Robert Palladino was kind enough to have gone on that trip with the Secretary and the President. That was the President’s trip, so he had those meetings, so I can’t comment too much on that.

      But what I can tell you, the Secretary met with the French foreign minister over the weekend. They had good, productive conversations. They discussed U.S.-French cooperation on resolving global security challenges, including – and I’d like to highlight this – how to strengthen NATO. That is something that’s important, the NATO alliance, to the United States Government and to many others, and we feel that whatever should be done should not take away from NATO’s efforts. That’s been a sustained entity that the United States Government and many others have supported for many years, and so we would not want the weakening of NATO.

      QUESTION: And aren’t those good, productive meetings undermined by President Trump’s tweets saying the opposite?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

      Okay. Next question.

      QUESTION: Hey.

      MS NAUERT: Hi, Michelle.

      QUESTION: Hi. On the same subject, so right after this dispute or a series of tweets or whatever you want to call it happened, the French president explained through his spokespeople what he was saying. I mean, he was explaining that he – this would be in tandem with NATO, not taking away from it. And now we’ve heard the German chancellor saying that no, she sees it being an actual European army. So in Secretary Pompeo’s interactions with his counterparts from these countries, does he have a problem with a European army or no?

      MS NAUERT: Look, our position, I think, on this is very clear: We have a longstanding relationship with NATO. NATO is America’s most important alliance. It has been and will continue to be central to the collective defense of North America and also European member-states. NATO will become stronger, in our view, when all members assume greater responsibility for that. We’ve seen many countries step up to the plate and contribute more in terms of its – their GDP to NATO’s collective defense. We support the European efforts to increase defense spending at NATO, and also their military capabilities as a means to achieve a more equitable burden-sharing in the transatlantic security relationship.

      QUESTION: So does that he mean he supports a European army or not?

      MS NAUERT: Look, I have been clear, and let me say it once again: We support NATO. We support NATO and think that NATO should only be strengthened. Okay?

      QUESTION: You just said that NATO was the most importance alliance that the United States has, but France is actually the oldest ally that the United States has, and the President sniping at them via tweet is engendering some really – some real ill will on the other side of the Atlantic. What’s this building do to try to minimize the damage that’s caused by this?

      MS NAUERT: I think I can only say in my experience, in hearing from my counterparts, from some of these foreign leaders, some of this is much ado about nothing. There are news reports, people like to make a big deal out of what they see as a falling out, a rift. And from my experience, and I think from the experience of many of my colleagues at the State Department, that is not the case. We have a close alliance with France. It’s one of our oldest and most critical allies, and nothing with regard to that relationship has changed.

      QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, much ado about – when you say much ado about nothing, we should just ignore the presidential tweets?

      MS NAUERT: No. What I would say is, though, many in – and I’m not criticizing my colleagues here in this briefing room, but often people publicly make a lot more out of a situation than really is the case.

      QUESTION: The President of the United States got on his Twitter account and insulted the president of France.

      MS NAUERT: I would --

      QUESTION: That’s not us or anyone else making a big deal out of it. That’s him doing it.

      MS NAUERT: I would say, Matt, that – really not a big deal, okay?

      QUESTION: Okay.

      MS NAUERT: I think you’re making a big deal out of really nothing, okay?

      QUESTION: North Korea.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Go ahead, Rich.

      QUESTION: Hi, Heather. Has there been any progress towards rescheduling the meeting that was canceled because of a scheduling conflict between the Secretary and his North Korean counterpart?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I think we addressed this issue last week, where we talked about the scheduling matter between the United States and also North Korean officials. We look forward to scheduling a meeting when the time is right. That is something that is important to us. As the President spoke last week, he talked about a possible upcoming meeting early next year with Chairman Kim. The communications that we have with the North Korean Government are regular communications and we continue to stay in contact with the North Koreans. When we have additional information on any rescheduled meeting, I’ll let you know.

      QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that there should be a meeting between the Secretary or officials before they – the President and the chairman meet again?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get ahead of that, but as you well know, our meeting we expect to be rescheduled.

      Yeah. Yeah. Hi, Janne. Go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Thank you, Heather. Follow-up, North Korea issues. And do – I think you know already, reading on New York Times article, and CSIS reported that there are 13 uncleared secret missile bases in North Korea. So North Korea continues to develop their nuclear and missiles. What is your comment or what is Secretary Pompeo’s reaction of this article?

      MS NAUERT: Sure. Some of these are intelligence matters, so I’m not going to comment on that. I can refer you to the President’s tweet from earlier today in which the President said – addressed this very thing, so I’m not going to go beyond what the President said. However, I will highlight in the UN Security Council resolutions, those resolutions included ballistic missiles, recognizing – as do so many other governments – that ballistic missiles continue to be a threat from North Korea.

      Now, we have come an awfully long way since last summer, when ballistic missiles were being launched. Recall when there was a ballistic missile launched over Japan, how frightening that was for those in that country. Nuclear weapons were being tested. We had three Americans who had been detained by the North Korean Government. We have still come a long way from where we were in our relationship and our posture with North Korea in the past year. We see that as progress. A lot of people like to poo-poo that idea. There is still a long way to go, and we go into this with our eyes wide open, recognizing and acknowledging that there is work that’s left to be done.

      QUESTION: But do you still expect CVID or FFVD from North Korea?

      MS NAUERT: Our policies have not changed, okay?

      Hey, Ben.

      QUESTION: Hi. Just an update on inspectors going to Punggye-ri and other sites – it’s been a month since the Secretary said he’d like to get inspectors in as soon as logistically possible. So are we any closer to sending inspectors in? Are there any kind of logistic hurdles that you’re having trouble with?

      MS NAUERT: Let me look into that and see if I have anything for you on that one, okay?


      QUESTION: Just on North Korea. So the story just said basically that you have come a long way with North Korea, and that is that North Korea is far more dangerous now than it was at the beginning of this administration. It has more bombs, it has more missiles, and probably it now has the technical capability to hit the United States.

      MS NAUERT: Gardiner, as you can appreciate, I’m not going to comment on the details of a specific story like that. Some of these would be intelligence matters. I can tell you that we have made significant progress. We have met more times, had more negotiations with the North Korean Government in the past six or seven months than the United States Government has within the past 10 years. We see that --

      QUESTION: But it hasn’t reduced the threat, has it?

      MS NAUERT: We see that as progress, okay? I think some of our officials, from the President to the Secretary of State to Ambassador Haley, have addressed concerns about the threat of North Korea, but we are working hard. We are giving diplomacy a chance, and that’s something that we’ve said from the very beginning of this administration: We’re giving diplomacy a chance.

      QUESTION: Afghanistan.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi, Nazira. How are you?

      QUESTION: How are you? Welcome back, Heather.

      MS NAUERT: Thank you.

      QUESTION: Yeah, two question. One question: Any comment about Moscow conference? And the second question: Any update for Ambassador Zal Khalilzad? Because this is the second round that he started to travel to Pakistan, Emirate, Qatar. There are so many different opinion and idea. What’s going on? Do you have any update?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah, I think it shows the fact that Ambassador Khalilzad is in – that he’s in the region shows our commitment to a lasting peace agreement, hoping that we can facilitate the Afghans and the Taliban coming to some sort of lasting peace agreement. Our officials have long said, including the DOD, that we don’t see a military solution to this outcome – to this in Afghanistan. Ambassador Khalilzad has been hard at work. I think he’s spent more time on an airplane or traveling overseas than he has back in Washington in the past month and a half or so since he’s taken on these duties.

      In terms of the first part of your question, with regard to the Moscow meetings, we see Russia, the Russian Government doing this, where they will hold meetings related to hot topics around the world. That is certainly their right to do so. The United States Government sent a representative simply at the working level, not to participate but just to observe in those discussions, and I don’t have anything more for you on that today, okay?

      QUESTION: Did you see the report that the administration is trying to push for the Afghanistan election to be delayed? Do you have anything to say about that?

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, I’ve seen that report. One of the things that is important to us is we’re committed to the overall electoral process. If there were to be any changes made to the scheduling, that would entirely be a decision on the part of Afghanistan, one in which we would not interfere.

      QUESTION: But you’re not – so you’re not suggesting or advising one way or another?

      MS NAUERT: As you can see, I’m not there with Ambassador Khalilzad, but I can tell you that our support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is our policy. In terms of elections and if they were to make any changes, that would entirely be up to the Government of Afghanistan and not the United States Government.

      Laurie, go right ahead.

      QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

      MS NAUERT: Hi, Laurie.

      QUESTION: Hi, how are you? Welcome back.

      MS NAUERT: Thank you.

      QUESTION: Both the Iraqi prime minister and president have said that they are too dependent on Iran specifically for its gas and oil, for its electricity, to abide by U.S. sanctions. You’ve given them a 45-day waiver. Are you considering their appeal or do you consider the matter settled?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I mean, we watched, right, over the summer how Iraq suffered from a lack of electricity, especially in the south, and that was a real problem. That is part of the reason that the United States Government granted a 45-day waiver to allow Iraq to continue to pay for electricity that its people desperately need. We also saw some of the rioting and protests that took place in the southern part of the country. So we recognize that and understand that. We’re confident that this waiver will help Iraq limit its electricity shortages into the south. I’m not going to get ahead of any of the decisions or actions that we might take in the near future, but 45 days we think is important. We’ll continue to discuss this with Iraq.

      QUESTION: And are they reducing their import of Iranian energy? I mean, that’s one of your conditions for these waivers.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah, I don’t have any information for you on that at this time, but I can take a look and get back to you, okay?

      Hey, Abbie.

      QUESTION: Hey. I actually wanted to ask about the announcement you made today regarding the Humanitarian Assistance Steering Council. Can you explain a little further on what the intention of this is, that – what it will accomplish that it hadn’t accomplished before?

      MS NAUERT: Sure.

      QUESTION: And what role that it will play in the foreign assistance review.

      MS NAUERT: Yeah. I think what this is – and we just put out this statement today, and I can get you more information after discussing this with my colleagues over at USAID. This is a new approach, a new way to be able to come together in the U.S. Government and look at some of our assistance proposals and how money is being spent, but I don’t want to say much more without having the opportunity to discuss this with USAID first. I’ll gladly get back with you.

      QUESTION: And on the foreign assistance review, do you have any update on that? I know you’ve been saying it’s ongoing, but is there anything further?

      MS NAUERT: I don’t at this time.

      Okay, go ahead.

      QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

      MS NAUERT: Yes.

      QUESTION: A few quick questions: Have the Saudis been forthcoming in their dealings with the U.S. in this investigation?

      MS NAUERT: Well, I can tell you the Secretary spoke with MBS over the weekend and had a conversation with him in which we reiterated the importance of holding all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable. The Secretary has spoken to the fact that the United States Government is compiling some of its own data and taking a look at those facts. We’re getting information from a variety of sources, as any government would. And we’ll --

      QUESTION: But have the Saudis been forthcoming?

      MS NAUERT: And we’ll take a look at all of the information. I’m going to get – I’m not going to wade into our private diplomatic conversations at this time, but we have been very clear with the Government of Saudi Arabia that we expect transparency and accountability and also speed to the ability that those countries are able to make a speedy determination in terms of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi.

      QUESTION: And in working with Turkey, can you say whether the Secretary has now viewed all of the evidence that the Turks have?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not aware if he has or has not. The Secretary is not an investigator. I imagine that he will be looking at some information, but I just don’t have anything for you on that.

      QUESTION: Well, but there have been reports that he has heard the audio.

      MS NAUERT: Okay, let me make this clear one more time.

      QUESTION: Okay.

      MS NAUERT: Okay. The State Department has not heard any audio. There was one report about that, and I think we attempted to clarify that. I think the Secretary was very clear that he had not heard any audio.

      QUESTION: Well --

      QUESTION: So that still stands today?

      MS NAUERT: That still stands today.

      QUESTION: So Ambassador --

      QUESTION: Why not, though?

      QUESTION: Ambassador Bolton said this morning in Singapore that the tape that the Turks turned over does not directly implicate the crown prince. Is that your understanding?

      MS NAUERT: I have not seen Ambassador Bolton’s actual quote from what he had apparently said this morning, so I’d have to refer you to the NSC for questions about what Ambassador Bolton had said. But I will reiterate that the Secretary has said that we will hold those accountable – people will be held accountable. The Secretary outlined some visa revocations a couple weeks ago. We are also blocking some Saudi officials from coming into the United States. But the Secretary was also clear in saying that things will not end there. So you know we don’t forecast sanctions, but our actions that we take did not end and will not end with the visa revocations and the blocking of certain Saudi officials from coming into the United States, okay.


      QUESTION: Heather, why has the Secretary not heard the audio? Why? I would think that as the former director of the CIA he’d be very interested in it.

      MS NAUERT: I think the Secretary is in the role of being the nation’s chief diplomat at this time, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to hear. Okay.

      QUESTION: Heather, was the --

      MS NAUERT: Michel, go ahead. Final question. We have to wrap it up.

      QUESTION: -- the last step that the U.S. took regarding the Arab coalition in Yemen related to Khashoggi’s killing?

      MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. What is the question?

      QUESTION: Stopping the refueling of the Arab coalition in Yemen, was it related to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?

      MS NAUERT: Oh, you mean the air refueling? Is that what you’re asking about?

      QUESTION: Correct.

      MS NAUERT: Well, that was – that was something more in the Department of Defense’s lane, but no, those things were not related.

      QUESTION: Heather, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand your answer to Carol. Why would it be inappropriate for the top diplomat of the United States to listen to this tape or to look at all of the evidence? I mean --

      MS NAUERT: The Secretary – and guys, I don’t want to go down this road another time. The United States Government has said that people will be held accountable.

      QUESTION: Well, I --

      MS NAUERT: We expect accountability. We expect a speedy investigation. We expect a thorough investigation in which people are held accountable.

      QUESTION: I get that. I’m not --

      MS NAUERT: The Secretary has not listened to a tape, and I’m not going to get into it beyond that, okay.

      QUESTION: Well, okay. But why? Does he think it would be inappropriate for him to listen to it?

      MS NAUERT: I’m not going to get into it beyond that.

      QUESTION: Well, I don’t get why it would be inappropriate. You would think that even that anyone who is going to be looking into how you respond to this would want to have the entire plate of evidence to – would want to review the entire docket.

      MS NAUERT: Matt, we will be taking a look at a lot of different pieces of information and developing our own data set.

      Okay. Thanks, everybody. Good to see you all again.

      (The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)

      Tue, 13 Nov 2018 19:52:01 EDT